VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI urged humankind to undergo a "spiritual and moral conversion" during his traditional Easter Sunday message as paedophile priest scandals rock the Roman Catholic Church.
"Humanity needs... a spiritual and moral conversion," the 82-year-old pope said in his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" message. "It needs... to emerge from a profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences."
The urging came as the paedophile priest scandals cast a pall over Easter, the most joyous day in the Christian calendar commemorating the day when Christ is believed to have been resurrected.
The pope also touched on key hot spots in the world, calling for a "true exodus" from conflict in the Middle East, "the land sanctified by (Jesus') death and resurrection."
He urged "a true and definitive 'exodus' from war and violence to peace and concord", in the Middle East.
Condemning persecution and lamenting the "suffering" of Christian minorities, he said: "May the Risen Lord sustain the Christians who suffer persecution and even death for their faith, as for example in Pakistan."
He added: "To the Christian communities who are experiencing trials and sufferings, especially in Iraq... Peace be with you!"
Top prelates rallied around the pope over the paedophile priest crisis.
Easter mass kicked off with an unusual greeting from the dean of the College of Cardinals, who told the pope: "The people of God are with you and do not allow themselves to be impressed by the idle chatter of the moment."
Cardinal Angelo Sodano was reprising the same phrase the pope used a week ago when he urged Christians "not be intimidated by the idle chatter of prevailing opinions".
In Paris meanwhile, the archbishop of the city and head of the Catholic Church in France, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, said there was a "smear campaign aimed at the pope".
"And yet it was Cardinal Ratzinger who, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, encouraged bishops to take action against paedophilia by systematically informing Rome of such cases," he told Le Parisien newspaper.
However the top bishops in both Belgium and Germany issued forthright condemnations of the Church's role in covering up for predator priests in their Easter homilies.
Belgium's Andre Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, said the Church had mismanaged the crisis "with a guilty silence".
German Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, for his part, said: "Today particularly we must set out together and examine inconceivable events, awful crimes, the Church's dark aspects as well as our shadowy sides."
© AFP 2014